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2011 a banner year for the International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court continued to build credibility in 2011, but new challenges exist as Luis Moreno-Ocampo steps down as the ICC’s first chief prosecutor in 2012.

By Laura HeatonGuest blogger / January 5, 2012

Ivory Coast's former president Laurent Gbagbo talks to a security guard during his initial court appearance at the International Criminal Court in The Hague

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This post was originally published on January 4, 2012.

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Now four days into the New Year, the 2011 reflections are tapering off, giving way to predictions about what may be in store in 2012. But permit us one more: 2011 was a momentous year for the International Criminal Court as the institution played a role in some of the year’s most defining moments, further establishing itself as an avenue for pursuing justice for victims of even the seemingly most invincible leaders and war criminals.

The U.N. Security Council’s decision in February to refer Libya to the ICC was part of a swift and robust effort aimed at deterring further attacks by Qaddafi’s forces on protesters. By the time the vote came, the U.N. estimated at least 1,000 people had been killed in the first 10 days of the uprising. It was only the second time the Security Council had referred a case to the International Criminal Court and the first time it did so unanimously. (The first was Sudan in 2005, and four countries, including the United States, abstained.)

In the case of Qaddafi the move obviously failed to have the desired effect of deterring further actions against Libyan citizens, though it may have influenced those around him. Observing the Brother Leader’s ruthless actions and irrational claims to power in those final months, it seems unlikely that he would have acted any differently with or without the possibility of an ICC trial ahead of him.

The United States came out strongly in favor of the Security Council’s unified decision on Libya. Notable considering Washington’s non-party status, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice said, “The specter of ICC prosecution is serious and imminent and should again warn those around Qadhafi about the perils of continuing to tie their fate to his.”

The ICC issued arrest warrants for Qaddafi, his son Saif, and the head of Libyan intelligence, Abdullah al-Senussi, in late June. The case against Qaddafi was terminated following his death, and the country’s National Transitional Council said it would try Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and al-Senussi in Libya, a decision welcomed by the ICC prosecutor.

As 2010 post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire spilled over into 2011, calls mounted for investigations into alleged crimes against humanity committed by forces loyal to both sides in the disputed polls. In the absence of U.N. Security Council action referring the crimes to the ICC, newly elected President Alassane Ouattara sent a letter to The Hague in May asking the court to launch an investigation. In October, the court obliged, issuing to an arrest warrant a month later for former president Laurent Gbagbo.

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